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Mahindra XUV 500: Surf N' Turf
We’ve taken the Mahindra XUV 500 through deserts, jungles and old towns. This time, it’s up against the elements on Asia’s largest drivable beach
To be absolutely clear, everyone here at TopGear loves cars. Even more than cake and cat videos on YouTube. We’ll never intentionally do anything to cause harm to what we love. But like any other relationship, we sometimes need to move away from the routine and do something exciting with what we love to keep the romance alive. Yes I’m still talking about cars.
In that spirit, we took the XUV 500 along Kerala’s western coastline, across small towns, beaches and more. Considering we had taken the car through some seriously rough terrain and pushed it hard in areas normally considered too harsh for two-wheel-drive cars, this seemed like a picnic. But with a car like this in your hands, excitement is bound to follow.
Picking up the car from Mangalore, we drove south to the Kasaragod district in Kerala. The first sign that we had entered the state were the extensive coconut plantations that surround you. Sure, you’ll find those in most of south India, but it’s Kerala where the trees get really dense. Kasaragod is a small coastal town with a great sense of religious harmony, as you encounter temples as well as mosques in the same vicinity. The most prominent structure here is the Bekal fort, which is built from the sea up and offers a great view of the adjoining beach and town. The fort was constructed in 1650 and used as a massive defence structure, and it stands tall to this day, spread over a 40-acre plot.
A lot of the fort has been converted into tourist-friendly gardens, but there’s plenty of secluded spots to explore if you plan to venture off the picnic trail. Still, after a point, there’s little else to interest the casual tourist. But with a car like the XUV 500 at our disposal, and an evening to spare, we decided on drive off the highway and into the nearby villages. The XUV’s quick acceleration and soft ride made it fun on the dirt roads. It was the best way to get closer to the streams passing through the town.
The day ended with an incredible performance of a local dance called Theyyam. It seems similar to Kathakali at first, with the elaborate dressing and makeup. But actually, the two couldn’t be more different. While Kathakali is more about a story narrated in dance form, Theyyam is more an invocation of the gods in a temple or an ancestral home. Being more of a ritual than a mere dance, the procession may take place for anywhere between three and 12 hours, broken into multiple parts. Depending on the dancer, a variety of rituals can be conducted. What we witnessed was a fire-related performance.
The next day, we drove further south, to Muzhappilangad beach near the town of Kannur. The great thing about this beach is that its sand is tightly packed, making it extremely hard and great for driving. In fact, Muzhappilangad is famous for being the largest driveable beach in Asia. We were a bit cautious at first about getting the car into sand, but once we go onto it, the XUV stayed unaffected, maintaining great grip and traction, which filled us with confidence. All that was left to do was drive.
The sand beneath the tyres was a whole new experience. This wasn’t like driving on dirt, or gravel, or anything else. The tiny grains were hard enough to never give way, but at the same time, the top layer of the beach did crumble into tyre tracks. Unlike mud and dirt, which tends to coat tyres and make you loose traction after a point, the moist sand didn’t cling on, so the car remained steady even after multiple drives across the beach. The drive itself was exhilarating. But we needed to raise the bar on the excitement, so we headed for the water.
Before we go on, we’d strongly advise our readers not to do this. Salt water is one of the most damaging elements you can expose your car to, and driving through it is a bad idea. That said, we were curious how the XUV would hold up when there’s direct water involved. Much to our delight, it preformed pretty well. The car moved like a swift, red beast through the waves, making its presence felt across the beach. The salt water splashed along the sides of the car while leaving a spray of surf behind it, never losing grip or backing down on power. It felt like an obedient steed responding fiercely to my directions. But before we damaged the car with excessive salt water, we decided to head back to the beach and call it a day.
Taking the XUV 500 inside the water was a wild trip, but our next destination specialised in vessels that were more suited for the wet stuff. We went to the shipyards of Beypore in Kozhikode, just a little ahead of Calicut. After going through multiple tiny boat repair zones, we finally reached the shipyard. Lucky for us, ship construction was on in full swing, and the place was temporarily home to huge, beautifully crafted wooden ships with exquisitely detailed exteriors. And there were quite a number of them, with an army of skilled workers toiling away to create each of these epic vessels.
Just a little behind us was a yard to break up old ships and boats. Seemed as if this was both, birthplace and final resting place for ships. A yin and yang of sorts. Our final stop was around 180km further south to the scenic yet modern Cochin. Heading straight for Fort Kochi, perhaps the most scenic part of the city, we were welcomed by a place that could easily be mistaken for a small European town.
The old Portuguese architecture combined with the newer French-inspired construction makes Fort Kochi look straight out of a painting. It’s a place where a man dreams of settling down after he’s done with the bustle of city life. It’s also a perfect place for a date. Just the kind of time we needed with the XUV 500, before we headed back.